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Modern Voices
Peter Wood on inheriting the mother's slave status
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Q: We begin to see slave codes and laws appear that in many ways promote being able to separate those races. What are some of those laws? Can you give me an example of how the separation of the races happens?
Peter Wood

A: There are several legal changes that come about in the course of the seventeenth century that turn the tide toward race slavery. One is the argument that you inherit the status of your mother. In English law you always inherited the status of your father: if your father was free, you were free. In Virginia in the 1660s, they turned that around to make a special exception and said that these workers will inherit the status of their mother, which means that the mulatto child of a black servant woman inherits that unfree status. The shift from indentured servitude to lifelong slavery to heredity slavery, where not only am I enslaved but my children as well. That's a remarkable shift.
Peter Wood
Professor of History
Duke University

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